THIS.IS.PROGRESS

It’s late here in Arlington, Virginia – nearly 10pm on a rainy Tuesday. I’ve been thinking about Dale Beaumont-Brown’s new feature-length documentary ‘THIS.IS.PROGRESS”, and just about Progress in general. You see, Wrestlemania weekend is quickly approaching and I’m having a weird combination of nostalgia for last year’s event, and a decided lack of enthusiasm for this one. There are any number of elements that could be contributing to this – I’m not feeling much myself lately, some of my friends who I’d hoped to see at Mania won’t be able to make it, I haven’t watched very much wrestling in the last four months, etc. But then I think about the night before I flew to Orlando, how I was watching Progress’ “Chapter 36: We’re Going to Need a Bigger Room…Again” and how I screamed when Jimmy Havoc appeared during the main event. I think about what it was like speaking to Jim for the first time, and Jon. How I met a guy called Harry that everyone was referring to as “American Dale” who interviewed Courtney and I – for what, I wasn’t really sure.

And then I watched the documentary.

It is fascinating to me how Dale has captured Progress – all of Progress – in just over 90 minutes. It would be easy to trace a journey in a literal sense, or to contrast a big event to their meager beginnings. He could have traced the personal histories of all three owners, or followed a wrestler around for a while. But then, that wouldn’t be a documentary about Progress.

The thing is, everyone has a Progress story. Glen’s story starts in the audience at Chapter 1. Jimmy’s story began at Chapter 2. Ally’s at 19. Mine and Courtney’s at 41. Progress is a culmination of lots of stories: the linear stories of the wrestling characters, the histories of the performers themselves, the rise of a small “punk rock” company to this international sensation. Hundreds, even thousands, of fans whose lives have been changed or made better through their fandom tell their stories on blogs and podcasts and social media, and the word spreads until everyone has a Progress Story.

So kudos are due to Dale – because he told them all. He spun the angle on Progress to get every perspective you could imagine: promotion, story telling, women’s wrestling, inclusivity, mental health, physical health, family, endings, beginnings – it’s all there. And he doesn’t paint over the ugly parts. Those who have struggled or are struggling now are open about it. The moments when things are falling apart aren’t erased or watered down. Those people we wish to cut out from our history are kept in. Yes, Progress is welcoming and yes, it is a place to feel a part of something. But Jim, Jon, and Glen are not infallible. Progress is not perfect. Wrestling is not perfect. Sometimes the bad stuff gets in, and sometimes it looks fuzzy in the background of a shot, like something from a memory that’s gone all faded. The honesty in “THIS.IS.PROGRESS” is in not giving power to the moments in Progress’ history that have hurt or betrayed any of us who make up this family, but to quietly acknowledge them and move forward.

There are many moments in the film in which what we call “kayfabe” is broken, in a variety of ways. I’m rather partial to a scene in which Mark Haskins is preparing in a hallway before the Brixton show with his headphones on, but the camera has picked up the audio of Jack Gallagher who is a little ways down from him and working out the 8-man tag match that will happen just before the main event. The subtle ways in which Dale “exposes” Progress as the relatively small operation it truly is blew my mind. Watching Jon editing Chapter 46 on a laptop in a hotel room in Orlando, or Jim changing his son’s diaper. I remember how I felt meeting them in Orlando – Progress meant everything to me and words seemed to fail when the time came to express myself. I remember speaking to Jon about Super Strong Style 16 – which was the first event the PWGrrrlGang EVER purchased tickets for. “They’re just people,” someone once told me. And so they are – very real and wonderfully ordinary at times.

There is so much more nuance than I could ever list in a blog post in this documentary. The film’s relationship with light I could wax poetic about for hours, but I also didn’t study film in school and really have no idea what I’m talking about other than it makes you feel a certain way, through the whole thing. What I think my own major takeaway from it will be is that Progress is always going to be home, for so many of us in all aspects of wrestling. As someone who has been looking for a home for a long time, this means so much to me. You can never really be lost if you know where your home is.

I’ll see you in New Orleans.

The Lady J Says

P.S. You can find out more about ‘THIS.IS.PROGRESS’ on their website, or by checking them out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

 

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Boo That Man

There’s a terribly embarrassing story out there about me screaming at the top of my lungs in a ridiculously hot rec center in Queens, NY last year because of the utterance of a single word:

“Aye!”

That was it. I had gotten everything I’d hoped for in that one moment. That sound meant Zack Gibson was going to come out and wrestle his real-life mate Jack Gallagher, one-on-one for the first time in over a year. The match was a surprise, as Jack was meant to wrestle WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne with the title on the line, but Pete had been injured the night before, so Jack was in need of an opponent. Nothing about this experience disappointed; the match was all I could have asked for. But what truly elated me was the promo beforehand and the reaction from the crowd: over a thousand people in a New York borough were booing Zack Gibson at such a deafening volume, you’d think they all had some sort of personal history with him or Liverpool. But this behavior was something we’d all learned from watching Progress On Demand – Gibson is a heel not just because of how he behaves, but because of where he comes from. If you asked anyone in the Elmcor center that day, I doubt any one of them could tell you what there is to hate about someone from Liverpool (having been there myself twice now, I’m still not sure) but they know that when Zack Gibson opens his mouth, we boo that man.

“Gibbo” as he is more affectionately called (though by whom and with what affection remains to be seen) has been around in Progress since Chapter 1. He’s wrestled 44 matches over 39 chapters (and 2 US shows) for the company. He’s one of only 2 men to appear in all three Super Strong Style 16 tournaments (along with Mark Haskins). He’s won the Natural Progress Series Trophy (sort of), held the Tag Titles twice (sort of), and has remained a major part of Progress’ roster since Chapter 12. And yet all throughout these nearly four years now, Zack Gibson has managed to do something most of the other major players for Progress have not: he’s never turned.

Zack’s been a lot of things over the history of Progress Wrestling. He was Flash Morgan Webster’s original foil. He became affiliated with Nathan Cruz’s return as part of The Origin. He was the measuring stick for Jack Sexsmith proving himself. He effortlessly turned the Progress Ultras’ loathing of James Drake into a powerhouse of a tag team. Zack Gibson has been the constant baddie throughout Progress, no matter what else was going on. Perhaps he’s never been the “Big Bad”, like Jimmy Havoc at the helm of Regression, or Pete Dunne and British Strong Style. Instead, Gibson has presented the Progress faithful with someone they can count on as consistently antagonistic, whatever his storyline may be.

Currently, that storyline involves him and his tag team partner, James Drake, (otherwise known as the Grizzled Young Veterans) vying for a rematch against Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc in order to recapture the tag titles they lost at Chapter 63. A promo courtesy of the Grizzled Young Veterans went up on Progress’ Youtube channel today, and it was a fucking doozy.

It starts off like any other promo from Progress’ number one, the weeeeeerld’s number one…but then, something happens. About 29 seconds into the video, while Gibson is looking up at the camera and repeating the name of their tag team, there is suddenly a shift on his face. With JD scowling beside him, it’s as though the word “grizzled” has suddenly struck Zack Gibson as perhaps too on the nose for a descriptor. Suddenly, the past six years and sixty-something chapters seem to be written all over his face. He looks exhausted, as though he no longer has the energy to even muster the quick-witted banter we’ve come to expect from him. He takes a breath to steady himself and then launches into a more pointed version of his usual claims, culminating in an accusation that they were robbed of their titles. There’s another moment here, with Drake looking directly into the camera and Gibson’s focus elsewhere that we see it happen again, his history flashing for a moment all over his face. Zack Gibson has never won a singles title in Progress. He beat Flash Morgan Webster for the Natural Progression Series trophy, but not until after the tournament was over. In fact, the ONLY title he’s ever held in Progress was his 77 day run alongside Mr. Mayhem.

The way he spits out Haskins and Havoc’s names like they were curses, and points to Progress management for allowing such underhanded methods to cause a title change, he appears to be smoldering just below the surface. Haskins and Havoc have had every opportunity – literally every one. Both of them have been Progress Champion, both of them have been loved and hated by the Progress audience over time. They ARE Progress at this point, so synonymous with the company that the thought of at least one of them not being on a show is bizarre, almost absurd. Comparatively, too, Gibson has never been quite as obnoxious or dangerous as Haskins or Havoc were in their earlier days, so it’s not hard to see from where his anger stems. He also points out the injustice of Vicky Haskins being allowed not only to hang out at ringside during the match, but to do so with her propensity for barbed wire wrapped accessories. Surely, if Zack brought his own Missus to Progress, she’d kindly be asked to keep her seat. He then demands a rematch, no matter what they have to do to get it. There’s a moment of brevity as Gibson leans back on the wall behind him and James Drake steps forward, but Zack interrupts him with a rant about Flash before he can speak, a la Brookes and Lykos, and then they wander off to regroup.

There is a staggering amount of vulnerability that Zack Gibson offers up during this promo. The ebb and flow as some of it attempts to reach the surface before he stuffs it back down, the cadence to how he speaks as his words cover up years worth of successes and failures. His record in singles competition in Progress isn’t great. But his matches are consistent. His work ethic is consistent. His level of engagement with the fans – who absolutely LOVE to hate him – is consistent. To be held back AGAIN by the three problem children of Progress, whose transgressions and fuck-ups fans seem to forgive and forget time and again, must be infuriating. To be partnered with someone, as Trent Seven so loves to mention, who’s “other job” is working for WWE must also be infuriating. At this point, the fact that Zack Gibson hasn’t yet become Progress’ Big Bad is completely shocking to me. Surely he’ll crack at any moment under that amount of pressure, with all that rage seething inside him.

Now. Go back and watch the promo just one more time. All the way through, just enjoy it this time, because Gibson is a BRILLIANT promo, arguably the best in the business. He’s good, ain’t he? Hard to hate a man that good at what he does. He’s so good, I bet you didn’t even notice where he was standing, did you? With the light just above him and to his left.

So James Drake is standing in his shadow.

– The Lady J Says

January 1, 2018

In 2017, I was gifted a lot of wonderful things. I met some amazing people who have brought me great joy. I was introduced to incredible wrestling that I immersed myself in. I overcame my fear of flying in order to experience those people and that art form live and in person. I tried to give back to that community by being, I felt, a force for good. But the last two months have been a struggle for me, as I try to balance all of the things I’ve been doing this year with a shift in my family, and a sudden push-back from some that what I do in this community isn’t enough (or maybe never was.) My sense of panic and dread leading up to this final UK trip of 2017 left me sleepless night after night, to the point where I began to wish parts of it away in order to keep my head about me.

I may never be more involved in wrestling than I was this year. I may never see as many promotions or cut as many podcast episodes. I may never meet as many new people or be in as many wild and wonderful scenarios. I will, most likely, never be able to give to wrestling as much as it has given to me. And, perhaps, it is my deep desire to do so that has led me to the point where I am now:

It’s not fun anymore.

Wrestling started out, for me, as a place where I could escape when I was taking care of my Mom. For three hours on Monday, I wasn’t a caregiver. I was a wrestling fan. But now, it seems, the wrestling fan part has taken over everything else. It has overshadowed my ability to be a good daughter, a good partner, a good friend, or just good to myself. I find myself becoming radically up in arms about things I genuinely can not and never could control. I see myself and other sniping at each other in ways I would normally find cruel and unusual. This was a place I came to felt better, to feel uplifted, and I feel so incredibly ill-equipped to lift everyone up that I, in turn, feel crushed.

Now, that’s not to say something that is no longer fun is not worth saving or fixing or making better. Of course it is, because as Jim Smallman likes to remind us, wrestling is the best. But I cannot do it alone, and I cannot do it right now. I am not running away or abandoning anyone. But I am going to step back, and put my own oxygen mask on first. What better time for us to all do a little soul-searching, to find ways to look after our selves, than the beginning of a new year?

When I look at 2018, and all of the plans I’ve made, I don’t know how many of them will involve wrestling. I don’t know how many times I’ll return to the UK, or if I will even return to the Ballroom. I am searching for something – that feeling I used to get years ago when wrestling first saved my life. That feeling is what I’ve forgotten. That feeling is what is keeping this from being fun, and me from being happy. I felt it for a moment at Unboxing, though, so I know it isn’t gone for good. I felt it press in on me during an entrance, during a surprise, during a smile across the room. It felt like magic. And when it comes back, so will I.

Until then, please look after yourselves, friends. Be well in 2018, and be happy.

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

This year, I turned 30. Being 30 is very odd, and brings with it a sensation that has seemed to seep into every aspect of my life – in particular, wrestling. That sensation can best be summed up thusly: I am suddenly acutely aware of how very little I actually know.

Over two years ago, I wrote this angry post in response to an interview Triple H gave to a radio station in which he said, regarding the booking of WWE, fans “don’t have 1/100th of the information that it takes to make those decisions on a daily basis.” I remember feeling so angry and the best thing I could do to deal with that anger was to sit down at my computer and write about it on my blog. This blog has been a place I’ve put what I’ve been feeling in regards to wrestling for a long time now, but I’m not so sure it’s the right place for what I’m thinking or feeling anymore.

In that same blog post, I lamented a lack of a “path” for what, at the time, I thought was the career I so desperately wanted. There were no schools or courses to take to become a wrestling writer; there were no female mentors or role models who I could go to for advice. I wanted help, I wanted guidance. I wanted someone to tell me what to do or how to begin.

A year ago, in my Year in Review post, I foretold something new coming with the PWGrrrlGang hashtag that I’d been using for nearly all of 2016. I didn’t explain what that would be, other than to say I’d be using it to give back to the community – I just did it. There’s a good reason for that, too. I didn’t know what PWGrrrlGang would become, or how it would affect the independent wrestling community, if it would at all. But it did, and now there is a wonderful community of people trying to look out for one another, who are trying to take care of their wrestling family. It’s not perfect, and it cannot insulate the independent wrestling scene from all Bad Stuff. I don’t know what the PWGrrrlGang will become, but I hope it will always be, at it’s core, what it is I first wanted it to be: a calling card that lets people know they are among other devoted wrestling fans who just want to go and have a good time, and will do their best to just be good to the people around them, no matter what. That is all we can ever ask of the other people in the crowd, because at the end of the day the match is over, the show ends, and everyone goes home.

I have struggled lately with the existence of this blog, and with the continuation of the Facelock Feministas podcast, though those few hours each week I spend recording with Courtney have been some of the best evenings I’ve had this year. My relationship with wrestling as an art form, as a performance, as a business, has all evolved over the past 12 months. It has evolved so much I find myself teetering upon a line I didn’t even know existed before. I used to believe there was kayfabe, the stories we saw told in the ring, the larger-than-life personas and the roar of the crowd, and then there was reality – wrestlers in airports and photos of weddings on Instagram. But actually, there is a third place that exists between those two things. I don’t know what you would even call it, but it’s the place where wrestling is both business and ethics and mechanics. It’s the place that holds the answers to why certain people work certain places and not certain other places. It’s the place that knows why some stories play out better than others. It’s the home of the magician’s assistant, who doesn’t know what side of the bed the magician sleeps on, but knows how the rabbit got in the hat, or if it was ever in there at all.

It is not so much that I feel like I reside in this bizarre grey area now; I certainly do not. But rather, I know now that it exists. I know there is so much more information about how wrestling works – how the gears are turning and the cogs fit snuggly together – and that is what has left me feeling displaced. I know that for every time a fan asks “why did you do it like this?” there are at least 100 different answers, all valid and all things that had to be considered before a decision is made. I don’t know that I feel more empathetic toward wrestlers or promoters or anyone else than I did a year ago, but I suddenly feel uncomfortable discussing my opinions on wrestling when I am suddenly overwhelmed by how minuscule what I know is. I am also suddenly aware how far-reaching my audience is and how, at times, there is an expectation for me to announce to that whole audience how I feel about one decision or one tweet or one podcast or one promo. Perhaps after years of shouting into the nothingness that is the internet and all of its millions of users, I am now far more in awe of the power of what can happen when said to someone in private, or to just a few people, and how that can create more change – move more gears – than a bully pulpit ever could.

I’ve learned one other valuable lesson this year, and that is to be careful about making promises. Sometimes you let other people down when you can’t keep them, but sometimes the person you really let down is yourself. So I won’t be making any New Years Resolutions, dear reader, and I can’t make any promises to you. What I will say is that I don’t have any idea what comes next. I’m going to keep trying to be an okay human being. I’m going to keep trying to make sure that everyone who also wants to try to be an okay human being, in particular at indie wrestling shows, can get the chance to do that. If that’s the most I do in 2018, I think that would be a win for me.

As for what happens between reality and kayfabe, I cannot say. But I know it’s there, now. And that it was always there all along. I don’t know if finding out about the rabbit and the hat will help me to affect positive change in this thing we all love so much. I don’t know if, perhaps, it would make me not love it anymore at all. But I am acutely aware of how very little I actually know – for now.

– The Lady J Says

 

The Other Side of the Table

You know what a long drive through Western Pennsylvania needs? A pop-punk playlist, a particularly stunning sunset, and a friend to do the driving while you write a blog post about the incredible weekend you just had. Check, check, and check.

My roommate and I drove the nine hours from Washington, D.C. to Toronto, ON on Friday in order to attend Smash Wrestling’s F8tful Eight event on Saturday. The trip was an absolute blast – I absolutely recommend Smash to anyone who finds themselves in Toronto – and it’s hard to go home now. But I learned a lot the last two days, about myself and my perspective, so there’s a lot of work to do when I get back.

I became the Lady J nearly three years ago, simply to create a separate place to discuss my thoughts on wrestling that wasn’t going to annoy my friends who weren’t part of the fandom. What that name means has grown exponentially since then, as I find each aspect of my life becoming more and more tied to the wrestling community. I assume, going into this trip, that I was going to Smash in order to accompany some new fans, advocate for inclusion in their promotion, and see some great matches. But you know what they say about assumptions.

My roommate has two friends from his graduate program that live in or near Toronto, and I found myself sharing a few meals with the three of them. These are brilliant science people, who know little or nothing about wrestling. They have many advanced degrees between them, and one of them had just been working toward becoming an astronaut. I was, intimidated at first, sitting across the breakfast table from all of their knowledge and I felt a little silly saying I was in town for wrestling. But once I did, they asked questions and wanted to discuss the community and my place in it. They wanted to know everything about the PWGrrrlGang and what it’s like being a female fan. One of them told me, when I insinuated what I was doing was nothing compared to becoming an astronaut or being an astrobiologist, that “every community, even science, needs an advocate.” In this community, that advocate is me. I should be proud, she told me. And I am.

Once at the show, I quickly discovered Smash Wrestling didn’t need me to advocate to or for them. They are a self-aware promotion and work hard to create a welcoming environment. The fans are quite diverse and very much like a family – they take care of one another, even if they’re on opposing sides of a match. They love their wrestlers, too, and are grateful to everyone who comes to their home to bless them with the gift of a beautiful match. It felt more like I was meant to be there to learn something than to teach anything. Right now, the PWGrrrlGang is a me, a twitter handle, a t-shirt shop, and a promotion in Canada. But people will adopt it and make it their own. It will evolve and change to fit the needs of the community. I won’t be at the next Smash show because they don’t need me. The PWGrrrlGang is in safe hands there, and I hope Karyn and Dan can help to welcome lots of new faces into the crowd.

I also learned, standing at a merch table, that if you want to have an influence on your community, you have to accept that people are going to be listening. You can’t be shy about who it is that reads your blog or listens to your podcast, even if it’s the promoters or wrestlers themselves. If we want to bring attention to issues we think are important in wrestling, it is not enough to simply discuss them among ourselves as fans. It is essential to be willing to have these conversations with people who have influence or power of their own, to stand up and say in both an eloquent and digestible way what we feel the problems are and how we would like to see them addressed. I endeavor to never become complacent with what I have already achieved, and know there is still more work to be done, more ears to bend, and to speak up whenever I can. More than anything, I hope to encourage other people to do the same. Talk to your local promoters when there is a problem, and also when something is going great. Work toward speaking to the wrestlers you admire at shows: treating them with respect and gratitude can breed the same in return. A mutual admiration society is a great way to create a safe space and an open dialogue, should you need one.

Finally, I found myself sitting with my mentor at a small cafe in my tiny old college town before the six hour drive back home. We spoke at length about what I was doing, and his interests in all of my projects. He has no connection to wrestling as a fan, but finds the sociological aspects to be fascinating. As we discussed the weekend and my experiences, he asked what was next; what was my goal? My answers were long and meandering, as I was really answering them for the first time – even to myself. I thought about sitting across from the scientists in Toronto, and standing next to the wrestlers at Smash, and then looked across the table at him. I thought about how my position has altered in two and a half years, and where I am now. And where I can be.

I know what it’s like to be a female wrestling fan. I know what it’s like to be marginalized, sexualized, harassed, and ignored. I know what the PWGrrrlGang does is important and I know that it will grow with time. I don’t know what it’s like to be a wrestler, or a promoter. I don’t know how to reconcile the things we, as fans, want to see happen at shows in order to feel safe and welcome with the way a wrestling business is run. But I want to. I don’t want to know the finish to a match, or who is winning a title. I want to know how wrestlers feel about working in places where the crowd uses racial slurs. I want to know how promoters deal with crowds or performers who can get out of control. The only way to find these things out is to keep writing, keep talking to people, and do it tirelessly. Maybe there is no perfect solution. There are probably tons of people out there who don’t want to talk to me because they don’t believe in what I do, or they think I expect them to martyr themselves. There might just be, however, a few people who are willing to discuss these things with me. Whatever it is they have to say, I am willing to listen and work with them.

A few months ago I wrote a post about how there were no mentors for women writers, there was no one who could tell me, or anyone like me, what to do in order to get people to listen. There was no precedent for something like the PWGrrrlGang in our community. Now we’re here, on the other side of the table. We’ve done a lot together already. So where do we go next? That’s easy.

We go further.

The Lady J Says

 

PROGRESS: Watch Me Burn

So, I finally got to “That Part”.

Knowing that I had already expressed an appreciation for the character of Jimmy Havoc, many of the individuals who’d already experienced all of PROGRESS to date were eagerly anticipating my watching Chapters 9 and 10 over the past week. I don’t think they were disappointed by my live Twitter reactions in the moment as the major story that ends PROGRESS’s 2013 year unfolded before me. I was genuinely surprised, even though everyone had clearly provided me with signs that something big was coming.

Once Chapter 10 was closed, and the corresponding episode of Facelock Feministas was recorded, I had some time to digest what I had seen and how I really felt about it. Unpacking your feelings about wrestling never gets easier, no matter how long you’ve been watching it or how much of it you’ve seen. If anything, it gets more complicated as you become more honest with yourself. Perhaps that’s also a sign of age – a willingness to see even the ugly parts of yourself reflected back at you in your favorite art form, and forcing yourself to confront those things head on.

Before I go any further, I have two requests for you, dear reader. First, make sure you’ve actually WATCHED the first 10 chapters of PROGRESS, or I’m about to ruin the whole thing for you. Second, watch this video. It really helped to put some things in perspective for me, and I can tell you right now, it’s going to color the way I watch the rest of this story unfold in a major way.

Going into this experience of watching all of PROGRESS, I promised myself I would make a concerted effort to watch everything – all of the matches, all of the promos, any content PROGRESS provided via their On Demand service, I would consume. That meant seeing where my limit was when it came to Havoc’s hardcore matches. I was always fascinated by this kind of match, but assumed my own usual physical response to the sight of blood (light-headedness and fainting) meant it wouldn’t be possible to watch all the way through. And yet two hardcore matches have occurred so far, and I’ve watched them both completely. Perhaps a debt is owed to Lucha Underground for desensitizing me to blood, or at least for helping me to understand blood is a tool in the wrestling world, and if used properly it can enhance the telling of a story.

The story in question is not hard to follow. Havoc’s character is a weirdo, an outcast at the start. He’s a hardcore wrestler who wants to get involved at PROGRESS, so he has to prove that he can work the style of the promotion. Even though he doesn’t win his matches, each time he steps into the ring the crowd is fully behind him. Each match is a thing of beauty, each opponent elevated for having worked with him. When a real problem threatens PROGRESS, the existence of the London Riots and the mayhem they bring with them, Havoc is put into a hardcore match with one of their members to teach them a lesson. Let them step into the ring with someone who takes great enjoyment in causing them pain. In the end it’s Jimmy who takes a brunt of the force and ends up losing the match – yet again. So when he finally has had enough and unloads on Jim Smallman in Chapter 9, it’s really not that shocking. What is really amazing, though, is the promo he cuts on Smallman, and everyone in charge at PROGRESS. He goes on to make good on his threat of doing what he wants in Chapter 10, cashing in his contract for a match with an opponent and a stipulation of his choosing against then-champion Mark Andrews, and winning both his first match for the promotion and the PROGRESS title in the process.

While watching the YouTube video that summarizes this story and Havoc’s first two years at PROGRESS, it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t hate this heel version of Jimmy Havoc, but rather adore him. It’s so simple, I’m surprised it required any ‘unpacking’ at all, really: you can’t shame someone for being different and then try to capitalize on the thing that sets them apart from you and not expect to be burned for it.

Any marginalized group of people can tell you this story. There’s so many variations on it, the fact that it took this long to figure out what a wrestling version of it would be is the only thing shocking about it. I deal with it within our wrestling community every day, and I’m sure many other writers who are women, people of color, or LGBTQ can tell you the same thing. Day after day we get passed over or considered less-than because we aren’t white males with a specific perspective on wrestling. We’re mocked, we’re trolled, and then when publications find out they need a more diverse writing team, we’re absolutely bombarded with requests for work. Unpaid of course, but it’ll be good for exposure. The same thing happens from the outside looking into the wrestling world, too. Reputable publications never want to be pitched for pieces even in the vicinity of the professional wrestling world, but the second something “newsworthy” happens involving someone with the last name of McMahon, my inbox is full of requests (again, unpaid) because they know my turnover is quick and I know what I’m talking about.

“Fix our problem, but know that we think your art form is still illegitimate.”

Pink chair shots all around, absolutely.

So it turns out that it’s not Jimmy Havoc’s dark eyeliner or his Doc Martens or his love of AFI that makes me his fan. It’s the story. It’s him taking back control not only of his career in PROGRESS, but who validates him as a performer – who gives what he does meaning. He becomes powerful simply by being undeniable and being true to himself. He reclaims his mean streak and, as a result, takes his rightful place at the top of PROGRESS. Sure, in the world of pro wrestling storytelling, Jimmy Havoc is a bad guy – a heel. He beat up one of the promoters, someone who wasn’t prepared (nor should have to be) to defend himself. He poured lighter fluid on a wrestler who’d just wrestled two matches and won his first championship. But he’s also probably one of the most honest characters you’ll see in the wrestling world’s modern age.

“I’m going to do what I want to do,” he says over Smallman’s beaten form, splayed out on the canvas.

I hope you do, Jimmy. I hope we all do.

The Lady J Says

Imposter Syndrome

A few days ago, my roommate (who works for NASA) was discussing a concept known as Imposter Syndrome as it relates to the science world.

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In this case, she was discussing how women feel, even with post-doctorate degrees and fully-funded research projects, that they will eventually be discovered to be imposters in the science community. It’s something many of the women she works with are constantly struggling to overcome.

As I was listening to her speak, I realized that I struggle with my own Imposter Syndrome in the pro-wrestling world as a writer. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (particularly non-male-identifying) who suffer the same thoughts: that what we do is somehow less than, or that suddenly the community will wake up and realize our opinions are invalid.

I always try to qualify my writing with my own experiences or with my “place” in the wrestling community. How many of my posts have included the phrase “Now, I’m not a wrestler/promoter/referee/etc”? Plenty, though I’ve never counted. I make an attempt when creating these pieces to be forthcoming about how much information or experience I possess, and whether or not my opinion can truly be subjective.

Recently, Tommy End made some waves on Twitter with the following statement:

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I’m going to step right over the use of the phrase “valid opinion” in order to make a slightly different point here about objectivity. I believe Tommy’s argument here was actually about the fact that people who comment on wrestling can only give an outsider’s opinion, which lacks a certain insight having never wrestled a match/booked a show before. That is fair, as you are looking in from the outside instead of the other way around. But what I see as a fan and a writer is that Tommy is also forgetting that as a someone who is a wrestler, often times his own opinion (and not his specifically, but anyone inside the business) can be equally as subjective because their own preferences/experiences color their opinions, just as a fan’s does. The only difference is that his opinion is colored by his physical experience instead of his voyeur-based preference.

As a fan and writer, this argument is not entirely unlike the one I run into often regarding my role as a “feminist writer” with an “agenda” (oooh, scary!) I’ve been told many, many times that I am attempting to view wrestling through a lens that it was never intended for. Naturally my counter to that is that none of human history was ever intended to be viewed through the lens of strong female empowerment, so get over it. But the implication there is that the male perspective on wrestling is more valid than the female because they are the “target audience”. And how often has we, as readers of articles and consumers of content, found that men are more likely to rush into half-baked articles, unafraid of their lack of research or proper sources before hitting “publish”? That’s not to say there aren’t women who are also guilty of it, but in an environment where the validity of a woman’s opinion is already in question, many of us feel a need to double down on the “science” side of our work, the quotes, the research, etc., before allowing the general public in.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating for anyone who is so inclined to suddenly stop checking themselves. I AM however advocating for everyone else to stop wrecking themselves by giving in to a furious desire to be “first”. (This was recently discussed on the Talking Sheet Podcast rather eloquently by hosts Les Moore, Hugh Little, and Sealia Bloom.) But I am also advocating for women, for anyone who is not a cis-gendered white dude, to find their validity. Take a deep breath and silence that voice inside you that says someone is going to “find you out”. You are a wrestling fan, and a talented content-creator. You’re not an imposter; you’re the real deal.

The Lady J Says

British, Strong, & Stylized: Three Gentlemen of Progress

I’ve recently had an influx in new followers and new readers of the blog asking who I am and where I came from. The story of The Lady J is not a very interesting tale, but it does date back over two years to a few articles and videos I was doing for Cageside Seats. The one that seemed to garner the most response (and helped me to find my voice) was one on the Art of the Promo. That (VERY LONG) article came out of my own training in theatre and creative writing, which is the lens through which I have always viewed professional wrestling. I tend toward promotions that favor a cohesive narrative that intertwine all members of their roster, but also enjoy cards where the storytelling that is happening inside each match is equally compelling. My favorite thing, though, is an exquisitely delivered promo. We don’t see them as much anymore; it’s almost as if the true art of a great promo is being replaced by things that are heavily scripted or under-valued in their contribution to the show as a whole. While I love the acting work on Lucha Underground, arguably the promotion I follow most closely, the vignettes we see there are not quite the same thing as a good, old-fashioned wrestling promo. Need an example? Funny you should ask…

Yesterday, a YouTube clip from the Progress Wrestling promotion out of the UK popped up on my Twitter feed. I think I watched it three or four times. Check it out for yourself:

 This might end up going down as the best out-of-ring promo of 2016, and a lot of people are going to sleep on it because of its simplicity. Even if you are not a fan of these three gentlemen, even if you don’t follow Progress, even if you’re not a UK wrestling fan, there’s something here you need to be looking at.

First of all, make sure you take note of what ISN’T in this promo: there are no fans, there is no giant Progress banner behind them (though Dunne is holding the Progress title), nobody is in their wrestling gear, and no one is yelling. The reason there’s nothing flashy about this promo is simple: it doesn’t have to be. Progress itself as a promotion doesn’t require confetti and glitter to bring in new fans – it already has a massive following the world over. And these three fellows don’t need your attention either; they already have it. They have your attention, your titles, the keys to your car, the deed to your house, and you might not realize it yet, but your wallet is missing, too.

Regardless of what their in-ring personas are like (and we do get clips of Dunne and Trent Seven getting pretty mouthy with the Progress audience), in this promo there is a sense of both calm and confidence. The greatest thing a heel has ever done in a promo is speak softly and slowly. They say you catch more bees with honey – and that’s the key. Not to be sweet, but to lay a trap so easy to fall into it would never occur to us to give it a second look.

A trio of well-dressed British men are standing before a brick wall, coolly explaining that they are not in possession of the Progress titles for the honor of it. It’s about power – those titles are going to get them OUT of Progress, out of the UK to bigger, more lucrative contracts in other parts of the world. You don’t need to like it or even understand it, that’s just how it is. They even TOLD you they were going to do that, you just didn’t want to believe them. They’re smug and cocky and it’s absolutely BRILLIANT heel work.

I could surely write pages and pages of praise for Trent Seven’s ability on a mic. This man can talk, regardless of his affiliations, but his slimy, conniving heel brilliance is unequaled. Meanwhile, Pete Dunne is lousy with brash swagger and attitude, akin to an over-confident 1920’s mob boss on the brink of either domination or termination. The key to this entire interview, though, is in the last 20 seconds when we get exactly six words out of Tyler Bate, who has spent the entire promo looking over his shoulder. The most recent convert to the dark side has plenty of reason to be concerned who or what might be behind him (no spoilers here) and conveniently masks his discomfort with aggressive misdirection before walking off.

Think about all of the stories told here: Trent’s reasoning for abandoning Moustache Mountain for British Strong Style, Pete Dunne’s plans for the Progress title, and Tyler’s inner battle with his own heel behavior. None of it reaches out and slaps you in the face, though. Every second of this video is calculated and smooth, just like the characters steering it.

The icing on this little promo cake of deliciousness? This video is two minutes at fifty-two seconds long. I bet at 2:53, you were figuring out how to get your eyes on the Progress show in question – and probably all of their past and future products, too.

Well done, gents. Lady approved.

The Lady J Says

This is Not A Moment, It’s the Movement

After a historic event at WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Sunday (and, regardless of your opinion of the final match, the booking of a women’s HIAC match to go on last was, in fact, historic) Monday was a day for reflection.

I spent a significant portion of Halloween afternoon discussing with friends the greater environment of the wrestling community and the landscape for women in the industry. The major topics included training opportunities for women, and how many (if not most) schools are run by men, with much of the lessons based in teaching women how to wrestle utilizing men instead of other women as training partners. This often times comes in direct conflict with the way women are booked, with an emphasis on women’s matches instead of the intergender matches most women learned their craft in. This becomes an issue when veteran women on the independent scene, who have made a career of wrestling other women who usually fall into a certain weight/height bracket, are given super green opponents whose only experience is in wrestling men who are often much taller/heavier than they are. This, clearly, means the methods and styles of wrestling will be in direct conflict.

It also seems clear that another contributing factor to the above-mentioned scenario involving training/booking issues for women is that there are so few promotions and training schools run by women, or that have multiple women in positions of authority or power. This is not to say that there aren’t men in the industry, promoters and wrestlers, who advocate for women, who make a concerted effort to regularly book a variety of new, up-and-coming, and veteran women in both intra- and inter-gender matches. These individuals have certainly created opportunities for women where there weren’t before, and continue to help advance equality in the wrestling industry.

Last night, while watching Monday Night RAW, I read a blog post written by Gabe Sapolsky, whose title is current VP of DGUSA, according to his Facebook, which also lists him as co-founder of EVOLVE and creator of Ring Of Honor. In it, Sapolsky discusses Charlotte & Sasha Banks’ HIAC match in terms of breaking barriers and creating new opportunities for women in wrestling. He encourages women getting started in the wrestling industry to take advantage of an upcoming wrestling seminar with WWN. This is a great opportunity and I hope WWN sees plenty of women at their next round of tryouts. I also hope they actually book some of the women who do tryout for them. My issues, however, is with the broad strokes Sapolsky takes in painting the battles women have been fighting in wrestling has being won.

In his post, Sapolsky uses phrases like “The glass ceiling is gone”, “Opportunity is everywhere”, and “The playing field is level”. I know that to some people, seeing women “main event” a WWE pay-per-view product or compete inside a cage structure like Hell in a Cell seems like the crowning achievement of the women’s wrestling movement. However, it is by no means the end of the line. The playing field is most certainly NOT level, and while that glass ceiling may be cracked, it is definitely not disappeared. Changing a highly visible product like WWE to reflect a more equal playing field for men and women is an achievement that will be remembered for a long time. Hopefully, it will inspire a whole generation of young women to explore opportunities in the wrestling industry moving forward. But the reality is, it is not any easier for women to do so, and the opportunities have not actually increased in number. It would be more honest to say that the oneway to make the necessary, further changes at the indie level is for more women to attend training programs and tryouts, thus creating a larger pool of women within the industry to work with and creating a need for more women’s matches and titles.

The other issue that Sapolsky illustrates, though it seems unknowingly, is his introduction. In it, he reminisces about a shared meal with Adam Pearce and Dave Prazak, over which Prazak discusses his vision for a women’s promotion which would eventually transform into the very real, Chicago-based SHIMMER. Though the opportunity that SHIMMER gives to women is unquestionable, what is so clearly illustrated here is that even in the supposedly “level playing field” of wrestling, the credit for SHIMMER is due to a man (even though the promotion is listed as being run by him and retired wrestler Allison Danger). Now, as I mentioned earlier, the movement of equality in wrestling is not without our male-gendered counterparts and there are many instances where opportunities were created with the help of some wonderful men, including the creation of women’s promotions like SHIMMER and its sister promotion, SHINE (also run by Prazak, along with wrestler Lexie Fyfe). The problem lies in creating promotions in which women are in positions of power not just alongside men, and not only when the roster is entirely female. If it is fair to say that a man can run an intergendered roster, why can’t a women? And why are there not more wrestling schools helmed by women? Equality is not a single-tiered field in which opportunities balance at half female and half male. It is a multi-leveled endeavor, in which there must the same opportunities for women on the business side as well as the creative and performance side.

To date, two of the biggest names on the business side in wrestling are Stephanie McMahon and Dixie Carter, the Yin and Yang of successful women in the industry. While McMahon is credited with playing a major role in the recent Women’s Revolution in WWE, Carter shoulders the blame for the failures of the entire company because of her unwillingness to yield in her business strategies. This is not to say I agree with the general publics opinions of these two women, or that I subscribe to these schools of thought, but when we consider women in powerful roles in the industry, it’s hard not to assign them to either column A or column B. In one hand you have a strong head for business who is only being given credit for what the employees of her own gender do, and in the other you have a woman whose name will go down in history as being synonymous with stubbornness and poor business acumen.

I don’t know Gabe Sapolsky personally. I have never met him, and know very little about him. I try not to pass judgement based on others opinions of him or the companies he is associated with. But I do hope that beyond the narrow scope of his posting, he is also having dinner with women who are looking to take on a larger role in this industry. What someone writes in a blogpost like the one you’re reading now, or the one Sapolsky posted yesterday, is only a tiny pinprick into the larger scope of a person’s true perspective. I reserve the right to believe that someone like Sapolsky, with his ambition, his experience, and his love of wrestling, wants to exist in a world where the playing field IS level, where there truly IS no glass ceiling. But to suggest such a time is now upon us discredits the necessity of further hard work and dedication from all of the up-and-coming individuals, especially the women, in the business.

Wrestling has been, to date, the business of good old boys. It is probable that, with every inch of success the movement for equality gains, there are those on inside who hope it will be the last they must give to satisfy us. But there is always further to go. Those men who are truly advocating for equality will offer up the knowledge they have gained from their own experiences, and help to elevate women not just as wrestlers or managers, but as referees, trainers, promoters, and leaders in this industry.

Two days ago I saw two women wrestle inside the Hell in a Cell structure as the final match of a WWE pay-per-view card. That is how far we have come; that is where our fight for equality has taken us today. Where will we go tomorrow?

– The Lady J

An Artist Debuts

This past weekend was an absolute whirlwind of wrestling for me. It was my first time making the trip to see two separate promotions in two separate cities on back to back days. If you’re interested in checking out NOVA Pro’s NOVA Project 2 pre-show, that’s up here on the Facelock Feministas YouTube channel. If you caught Chikara’s The Black Goodbye either live or on Facebook, just know I’m going to do a blog post about that later on in the week.

My friend Kate (who most of you know as MakeItLoud on Twitter, and from her fabulous RAW Breakdown Project) and I have had plenty of time lately with all of the long car rides we’ve been taking to discuss wrestling at great lengths. We’ve talked about bookings, about promotions, about storytelling, about women as wrestlers, creatives, and fans. But the topic we seem to keep returning to is the unique relationship between the performers themselves and the fanbase. In wrestling, the way we as fans interact with promotions and wrestlers is unlike the way the fans of just about anything else interact with the things they are a fan of. Not only are these individuals and companies available to us through social media and video productions that are widely accessible, but also through live and in-person performances and interactions. Many fans feel a connection with specific promotions or performers, and while most often that manifests itself in terms of admiration, some cool fan art, and really wild cheers at live shows, it can also contort into a sense of entitlement and ownership.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know any wrestlers personally. You could argue my most direct connection to any wrestler is through attendance at the NOVA Pro shows and through doing the podcast. I don’t know anything about these people’s personal lives and we don’t socialize outside of that environment. I am just a fan. But I feel a deep sense of pride in them when they achieve something within this industry – even without titles or tournaments. When they have a particularly stupendous match and you can see it on their face afterwards how proud they are, it’s infectious.

I’m a lady with a blog and a podcast. I like to discuss the performance aspect of wrestling (see also: my Facelock Feministas review of the Weapons of Mass Destruction match on Lucha Underground.) I like to discuss the gender biases within the industry and within the fanbase (see also: the #PWGrrrlGang.) I also like to have fun, which is why – if you are a wrestler – there is a chance you’ve heard me talking about your butt on Twitter. Sorry. (#NotSorry) I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the first (and hopefully only) person who has called me out on this in person is Cedric Alexander.

I’ve seen Cedric Alexander perform live in three different promotions now: I saw him at AAW in Chicago back in June, I saw him wrestle at Chikara’s King of Trios earlier this month, and for the better part of this summer, Cedric was appearing at the monthly NOVA pro shows, wrestling our own fan favorites as well as outside talent, like Shane Strickland. Cedric never once had a bad match with anyone. Cedric’s style, his presence both in the ring and outside of it, and his willingness to interact with fans whether they are lining up for an autograph and photo or yelling Kota Ibushi’s name at him while he’s wrestling, paint a picture of someone who is truly dedicated to his art form. That’s the best way I can describe Cedric: he’s an artist.

When he was announced as being a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was natural for me to cheer for him. Before a single episode had aired, none of us were 100% sure what the outcome would be – not only who would win, but what the prize would be. I had hope that Cedric would do well, whatever the bigger picture might have in store for all of the participants. So to then discover that while he did not win the tournament outright, that he WOULD be debuting today, September 19th, on Monday Night RAW as part of the new Cruiserweight division made me incredibly proud. Not all wrestlers have the same goals or aspirations, but we as their fans and supporters hope that they make their craft sustainable; we want them to be able to do nothing but wrestle and feed their families through their art. We know that for many of them, working with WWE is not only a childhood dream, but the place where money and wrestling come together to create that sustainability.

From my tiny place within this giant industry, all I can hope is that hardworking individuals who genuinely love their fans and want to create a body of beautiful work with a variety of opponents are the people who reap the rewards. The current list of cruiserweights making up this new division is quite diverse – the styles and background of each competitor speak for themselves – but I feel strongly that Cedric will rise as a leader among them. I look forward to what their division will bring as a whole to RAW, and who they may inspire to pursue a career in wrestling. They have also left a sizable hole in the independent scene, and I eagerly anticipate who will fill the space they’ve left behind. (I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the new best booty of the indies, of course. Don’t think I’ve totally turned into a mush.)

It is hard to be a wrestling fan a lot of the time. It’s an expensive fandom to exist in where your heart will be broken, bad decisions will be made, other fans will make you crazy, and people you care deeply for will get injured. You can often feel like a tiny, unheard voice shouting amidst a sea of other opinionated characters, with just as much passion or fervor as the next person, but no one to listen. Sometimes the nonsense that goes on will make you want to walk away from the whole thing. Kate & I have joked we should make a shirt that says “Your fave is problematic and your fave is pro wrestling.”

I’m so very proud to say my favorite isn’t problematic.

Mine is Cedric Alexander.

– The Lady J Says